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Is a city ordinance enforceable if it violates state or federal law?

Updated on December 24, 2013

City ordinances are past by cities all across the country and many are well within their jurisdiction but if an ordinance violates state or federal law the question to be asked is it enforceable as written. Granted a city ordinance does not have the label of a law but the impact is the same. It is the rules governing the management of the city. In the realm of government if a state government violates federal law it basically in reality is not enforceable and often the federal government brings suit against states which it feels violates federal law.

The ordinance involved is the responsible bidder ordnance and action associated with this ordnance has been suspended since September 2013. The ordinance brings up some interesting questions and it involves both state and federal requirements. The requirement to upgrade the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) was generated by the EPA and the contract costs are estimated to be around $3 billion dollars when it is all done.

It is not known if federal dollars are involve with this project but given the costs of the project it is highly unlikely that the city and county would have such resources of funds. The responsible bidder ordinance basically restricts competition in that all companies do not meet the stipulations as reported in the news. Restricting competition is never the right thing to do in any situation. In terms of federal funds there is a requirement that certain minority contractors must be a part of the contracts awarded. Requiring a training program is not necessarily a bad thing but when it restricts the pool of qualified contractors to do a job it is never a good thing.

Several reports in the news have stated the ordinance violates state law and if it violates state law it more than likely violates federal law. The work undoubtedly needs to be done it is just a matter of who is going to do it. Companies chosen and the qualifications for those companies must follow state and federal procurement law requirements. Operating the MSD or any other system cannot have rules which violate state and federal requirements when federal funds are involved.

From reports contractors and their contracts must be approved by the County before they are finalized and the county is insisting that state and federal guidelines must be followed. It is unclear what the reason for the pause in sending the ordinance back to committee when and if it violates state and/or federal guidelines. Other companies who are locked out of the bidding opportunities have indicated they may sue if the ordinance is not overturned and this is something the city needs to consider. Lawsuits could hold up the project indefinitely and end up costing millions of dollars more. Logically the issue would be quickly resolved if state and federal guidelines were followed. As it appears now only companies who meet the guidelines in the ordinance involve only union shops. This may not necessarily be the case but this appears to be the situation.

Federal laws and regulations which are applicable to state and city projects trump any legislative or ordinance action and as such federal law takes precedent. Granted sometimes there may be a difference of opinion as to whether federal law applies in any given situation. Actions at the federal level must be followed barring a law or regulation being thrown out by a federal court. We may not necessarily like all the laws and regulations that are issued by the federal government but we as individuals and cities and states cannot choose which laws they are going to follow.


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